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(Un)intended Consequences?

IMG_1110

The last vacation I took: Bethany Beach, Delaware, July 2011

In a day or two, I will relate my own ongoing struggle with Obamacare (it’s not positive, believe it or not).  But for now, I want to talk about something I saw yesterday on Corrente regarding the Clinton papers and what Hillary Clinton had to say about the individual mandate.

But first, let me tell you about Jobs4NJ.  When I was laid off back in 2011 from the job I loved, I signed up for the NJ job matching service.  You upload your CV to their database, spend 2 hours correcting all the formatting mistakes, and wait.  By the way, we were told at the NJDOL that we could also apply for state jobs but that each job application would require a $25 fee.  That fee was non-refundable whether you got a job or not.  Imagine asking a bunch of unemployed people to cough up $25 for each job opening they saw on the state employment site.  I’m wondering if that was a Christie innovation.  The DOL employees were extremely kind, helpful and treated us with dignity and respect and even they thought the fee was outrageous.

Anyway, getting back to Jobs4NJ.  They sent me some job listings.  The good positions were gone, gone, gone from NJ.  The postings I got had descriptions that seemed a bit vague, as if the companies themselves weren’t really sure what they wanted.  Most positions in “science” were really business positions.  Apparently, R&D has an unmet demand for marketing and finance specialists.  Labrats?  Ehhhh, not so much.

I applied to some of the few low level lab positions that were available, and, as is the custom these days with companies, never heard back from any of them that they even received my CV and cover letter or what exactly the mismatch was.  This was not the example of malignant narcissism run amok that I alluded to a couple of days ago though.  I would be grossly exaggerating if I characterized this all too typical insensitivity towards jobseekers as evil.  I’m saving the story of true senseless malice for a book.

I still get email from Jobs4NJ, though you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to go back to that state.  But I noticed something the other day about the new positions.  Quite a few of them have the word “CONTRACT” in the post.  Hmmm, that’s a new one, thought I.  And then, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Over a year ago, I predicted that the ACA would lead to a greater number of contract positions.  And why is that?  There are a couple of reasons.  One, it allows many corporations to go “weightless”.  They don’t have to offer their workers benefits if they get a third party vendor to handle their human resources needs.  That third party vendor becomes a middle man, matching up contractors with the company.  The middle man becomes the tax collector who processes the paperwork and handles the  untidy business of interacting with the people who, you know, get their hands dirty in the labs.  (Sidenote: It always amused me when I compared the executive cafeteria with the R&D cafeteria.  The business workers had bespoke prepared foods, plenty of healthy and delicious options and an on-call nutritionist who would consult with you on your dietary needs.  I witnessed this personally one day.  The R&D cafeteria served the kind of high fat, high calorie limited entrees that would be perfect for coal miners, not a bunch of bespectacled, skinny geeks.  But since the executives rarely interacted with us, we may perhaps excuse them for thinking we were grimy blue collar lumberjacks who needed 5000 calories per serving of bland, greasy food.)

The other reason why the ACA is leading to a greater number of non-full time, contract positions is that because the employer mandate keeps getting put off, indefinitely, it seems, the employee is now responsible for carrying the weight of the health care premiums, which, by the way, are still astronomical when the deductibles and OOP expenses are factored in.  An increase in precariousness shouldn’t be surprising.  Why should an employer invest money in training and retaining an employee when they don’t have to?  It’s a kind of moral hazard, is it not?

So, it came as no surprise to me that Hillary Clinton saw a flaw in the individual mandate back in the 90s.  Let’s be clear, that’s not the same as a universal mandate, which seems to be a cornerstone of successful national health care systems around the world.  It’s important that all stakeholders, employees and employers, buy in to the system or it doesn’t work.  But to put all of the burden on individuals and letting employers get away with no responsibility?  According to the papers, Hillary Clinton said that was a problem:

“That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we’ve got — a much harder sell,” Clinton said. “Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility.”

Yes, this is exactly what is happening.  EVERYONE is potentially affected.  Even worse, there may be a two tier system of employees.  I can just imagine the better connected, legacy ivy league graduates becoming fully vested in the employee benefit system while the state school graduates scramble from job to job trying to find a foot hold.  It’s already happening in the pharmaceutical industry where what the MBAs consider the cream of the crop get the few coveted positions in Cambridge and San Francisco and the rest of us run from contract position to contract position, or stuck in an endless series of low paying post doc positions.  (Sidenote: you politicians are crazy if you think we former scientists are going to let you get away with the “there aren’t enough STEM workers” schtick.  We are already all over the comments sections and posting loud and clear that there is no shortage.  We’re not going to let our children languish in the labs for decades while they make less money than a first grade teacher for all the education they have.)

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!

What else do contract workers not have besides health care benefits?

Well, I will tell you because I have been there.  They don’t have pensions, 401K plans, sick days, holidays or vacation days. They don’t get tuition discounts or reimbursements.  They don’t get to ride the buses for free nor can they get a spot in the employee parking lots.  And if you are a temp or contract worker, you don’t really have ANY labor protections.  You may have trouble getting paid due to the way companies pay their invoices.  In some cases, you have no protection against discrimination.  Think of how gay contractors fare with even the federal government.  YOU’RE a CONTRACTOR.  Your boss could call you in at any time of the day or night and make unreasonable demands on your time.  He may decide to arbitrarily cut your hours in half one week and let YOU worry about how you’re going to pay the rent or health insurance premium while your kid is in the hospital. As a temp worker “you do not have a salary”, as I was so brusquely  and dismissively reminded one day.

See where this is going?  Sorry, people, this is where we already are.  It’s not the future of employment.  It is the now.  Check out the Freelancer’s Union to see what employment is turning into.  A rational person would become debt free as quickly as possible and build a tiny house with solar panels and no plumbing and grow their own food.  We can let Krugman wax rhapsodic about what would happen to the economy if everyone cut back and accrued as little debt as possible.  Talk about lack of demand.  But that’s where we’re headed.  Those of us who were lucky enough to have some savings when the masters of the universe decided to pull up stakes and grab the pie for themselves have decided to stop spending money.  It’s self preservation but it’s not healthy for the country.  No more Royal Caribbean cruises, no more vacation rentals at the shore.  We question whether we really need that bentwood coffee table and agonize over hair cuts.  We save up for the days we have to call in sick.  We put off replacing our broken phones.

I think it’s time we stopped making excuses for our politicians that let this happen.  In fact, I’m not blaming Republicans for the recent, drastic, horrible negative turn of events that working people are experiencing right now.  They were like snakes and we knew what they were.  Their poison was already well understood by the educated working class.  We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing the stealthy predators into our midst in the last 6 years.  Some of us were so bedazzled by being called “creative” that we failed to look closely at who our new friends were.

But whether the war on the working class by the financiers was intentional or not, we can no longer deny, or should I say, we deny at our peril, that our nation’s top politicians have provided a moral hazard for finance and businesses both large and small, to continue to shed benefits and worker protections via the contracting route.  In the pharmaceutical area, this was accomplished easily by laying off hundred of thousands of R&D professionals in the wake of the Great Recession and now hiring us back as contractors.  Indeed, the high unemployment rate of the last several years coupled with the delay in the employer mandate for the ACA has created a perfect storm where the stripping of compensation is going to pick up even faster and reach deeper into the American workforce just as Hillary predicted decades ago.

It’s happening so fast that many of us don’t even realize the predators are on us until we’re being forced down the gullet.  Will this become a harder sell politically in November 2014?  We will see.

The bigger problem with Obamacare and why people will hate it

I’ve noticed a certain sentiment appearing in so-called “progressive” blogs about Obamacare that I find particularly awful.  It’s that people who are desperate for healthcare will be so grateful for something better than the Republican sharp stick in the eye that they will put up with endless amounts of indignities to get it.  Yep, those truly sick or with relatives who are truly sick will gladly spend hours and hours of frustration in front of a hot display trying to log in and get their information correct so they can see the exchange plans.

There’s an underlying heartlessness about this sentiment.  It’s like, well, what did they expect??  They’re poor and they’re sick.  They should be happy we’re doing anything for them at all.  This strikes me as just a hair better than the “let ‘em all die!” attitudes of the Tea Party people.

But that’s not why I think Obamacare will eventually come to be loathed by anyone forced to jump through hoops and face indignity after indignity before they even get to see what their options are.

No, I think the biggest problem with Obamacare that will make people loathe it is the lack of the employer mandate.

See, it’s a little like getting on an airplane and finding out the guy in the seat next to you paid a LOT less for his flight.  If you have employer provided insurance, you probably have a policy that doesn’t cost you the equivalent of a couple new car payments.  You health insurance payments are your benefits, not an added expense.  It’s like you’re getting a bonus every month.  You can go on vacation and if you get a severe case of tourista or break your arm, you won’t come back home with a huge bill to pay off for treatment.  (Note to self: vacation in Canada)

And this is a problem because there is a lot more temporary work these days.  A lot more people who were formerly covered by their employers suddenly aren’t anymore.  I met a lot of people like that in New Jersey.  They couldn’t afford their insurance anymore because they were part time employed or unemployed or self-employed or employed by contract.  Those numbers are growing all of the time in this Little Depression.

So, many of them go without treatment, like the lovely, elegant blonde woman in her fifties I met.  She and her husband both lost their jobs and tried to pay their mortgage on what work they could get.  She let her dental care lapse.  And now she has a mouth full of rotting teeth.  Rotting front teeth.

Or the guy I met at the bar of a local restaurant where I was waiting for my car to be fixed who kept bugging me about signing up for his financial services company.  I finally had to be rude to him and tell him to leave me alone (I had been laid off about a week before).  He got quiet and despondent and said very softly, “I wish I had health insurance again”.  Then I noticed how thin and pale he looked.

How would these so-called “progressives” like it if they had to pay for their health insurance by nagging equally poor women at bars for business?  You can only avoid bars for so long.  Or New Jersey, where the problem is lurking in plain sight.

This administration and its party thought all they had to do was pass the bill and then celebrate.  Implementation would take care of itself apparently.  And if the employer mandate didn’t happen or the deductibles weren’t capped, it was no big deal because it was only the poorest and sickest of the poor who would suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  It’s like all of DC has been living in a glass dome for 5 years and has no idea how segments of the formerly well cared for middle class has fallen through the floor caused by the chronic unemployment they have left festering while they allowed the Republicans to control the message.

They have created a new tier of second class citizens.  Oh sure, the employer mandate will come, maybe.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, there will be resentment and seething and anger.  The costs still come out of our pockets or our income tax returns and now, we’ll have no choice to be shaken down by the private insurance market.  We will be captives to it.

Not all of us.  Just those of us unlucky enough to lose our jobs in the name of “shareholder value”.

Things that drive me crazy

In no particular order:

1.) An unchargeable iPhone.  Yep, completely unchargeable.  Thanks for the helpful suggestions you are about to give me.  Be assured that I tried ALL of them (as confirmed by the apple store genius).  Still no charge.

2a.) Having to go to the mall on Black Friday to visit the genius bar at the apple store to diagnose problem with dead iPhone.  It was a logic board problem. (I know what some of you are thinking.  Don’t go there.)  They gave me a “new” iPhone.  It charges.  I am happy.  But still don’t like to go to the mall on Black Friday.

2b) Predatory parking at the mall on Black Friday.  Aggressively blocking other cars from snatching the parking spot you have been hunting for 20 minutes.  Realizing that population density and forced competition for resources in New Jersey have changed one’s personality and not for the better.

2c) Having the reception person at the apple store tell me that it is really inconvenient to have a broken iPhone on Black Friday.  No shit, Sherlock.

3.) The “check oil” light indicator on the dashboard.  No, there are no oil stains on the driveway.  I don’t know where the oil is going.  It’s just going.  I am most seriously displeased.

4.) The companies that will not give you a quote for materials and have no prices for their products on their websites.  When you “chat” with a representative, the *first* thing they want to know is your name, email and address, “In case we get disconnected”. uh-huh.  It couldn’t be to run a credit check and on the spot market research to see how much money can be extracted from the prospective customer, right?  The thing I have noticed about NJ contractors is that they have a dollar figure in mind. YOU may only want to know how much a door costs.  THEY want to get $3000 out of you.  The door may cost $989.95 but they are going to charge you $3000 for it.  The extra $2000 is for the labor.  Oh, sure, it won’t take more than 2 guys more than 4 hours but you will still have to pay $2000 for the labor.  That’s just the way it is.  Be forewarned, those of you who are being forced to move to New Jersey.

Is anyone else seeing something similar to this?  You can’t get an absolute price for your new AC unit, sliding patio door or any other item you need to get a quote for?  The contractor won’t break down the price for you into materials and labor?  Why isn’t there a law for this?  It seems to me that prices are disappearing rapidly and there’s no way to know if you are paying what your neighbor paid or whether you are getting first class or economy goods and services.

5.) Rand Paul.

6.) People who like Rand Paul and Libertarians in general.

Stupid Insurance Companies

I’m wasting time today trying to find a more affordable health insurance policy.  The one I have is outrageous and it all has to do with where I live.  If I move one state over, my health insurance costs drop to about 1/4 of what I pay now.  The policy I’m looking at has a higher deductible and co-insurance but in many respects, it’s identical to the one I had with Wyeth before I left.  It wasn’t until I went to a European company that I discovered what I was missing.  But along with that coverage comes a walloping, gigantic price tag every month and that’s the group rate.

I can’t believe that NJ has sicker people than in PA but there ya’ go.  Someone is taking advantage of a river.

But wait!  There’s more.  Reader givens sent me a link to this incident involving a lifeguard in Florida.  The lifeguard was asked to rescue a drowning man.  So the 21 year old lifeguard grabs his floaty thingy and runs off down the beach, Baywatch style.  By the time he gets there, some other people had dragged the guy out of the water and the lifeguard stayed with the semi-conscious man until paramedics arrived.  Great, you say.  Happy ending, no one drowned.

Not so for the lifeguard.  Here’s his account:

After the rescue, Lopez said his boss asked him to fill out an incident report and then fired him for leaving his assigned area.

“They didn’t tell me in a bad way. It was more like they were sorry, but rules are rules,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

According to the private company that now manages the beach for the town, the rescue took place on an unprotected strip of beach not covered by the contract.  The swimmers in that area are advised to swim at their own risk.  The contractor says the liefguard left his section unprotected while he went frolicking in the surf.  The other lifeguards say this isn’t true and that they were aware of the situation and covered the beach.  Two additional lifeguards have quit in protest.

It’s likely that this dismissal was prompted by the rules set down for insurance coverage for the beach.  I don’t know if this is the primary cause but I’m betting that it is.

Now, what could the contractor have done differently?  I dunno but firing the kid seems a bit extreme.  After all, a lifeguard is trained to save lives and to not attempt a rescue might have gotten him in trouble with Good Samaritan laws, though, this *is* Florida we’re talking about so maybe they have never heard of Good Samaritan laws.  The drowning man should consider himself lucky that no one shot him for being on the wrong side of the beach.

But there’s more to the story.  It turns out that the contractor gets paid $334,000 a year for guarding this part of the beach.  But it only pays its lifeguards $8.50/hour.  Really??  You go through all of the physical and first aid training and you get as much as a hamburger flipper?  There’s something not right about this.

So, I did some math.  If there are 4 lifeguards on the beach making $8.50/hour for 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, that comes out to $70,720/year for all 4 lifeguards.  Let’s say the supervisor makes $16.00/hour.  That brings the cost to the contractor to about $104,000.  Add on an additional 10% for all of those employer related tax thingies (you know at this level of pay that no one is getting health insurance) and you come out to: $114,000.  Just to be on the safe side, let’s say that health insurance is included for some cheapo EPO with a $1500 deductible and 30% coinsurance for an additional $250/month per employee.  That comes out to an additional $15000 for a grand total of about $129,000.

What is the contractor doing with the other $205,000?  Maintenance on the beach towers and floaty things and first aid kits can’t be that expensive.  So, where is all the money going?  Is the contractor pocketing it or paying liability insurance?

And if they are pocketing a good chunk of the remainder, was privatizing the service really saving the town that much money?? And if taxpayers are so adamant about saving money, shouldn’t there be a cap on the amount of profit a contractor can make?  I’m just taking this thinking to its logical extremes.

Just curious.  How much do you want to bet that “privatizing” involves a lot of favoritism, kickbacks and corruption?

Book Review: Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Quick aside before I start: I grew up in the military.  My little sister and I were dropped off at The Nursery on the Naval base in Norfolk when my parents wanted to go out for dinner.  My sister, going through a period of separation anxiety, would cry for what seemed like hours.  I spent the first hour trying to console her and the rest of the evening having a blast with other kids, playing games and watching cartoons from an overhead projector.  If our parents were late, there was a room with bunkbeds for the kids who hadn’t been picked up yet.  It was like a sleepover and we’d talk quietly to one another until our moms and dads plucked us out of bed and took us home.

We got our healthcare from The Dispensary.  That was a clinic staffed with corpsmen and doctors who handled our shots, my bout of hepatitis A when I was four and my sister’s unending stream of asthma attacks.  There was a pharmacy on site that dispensed bottles of thick yellow Tedral that made my sister jittery but allowed us all a few hours of peace each night to sleep.  My parents shopped at the PX and The Commissary.  My family ate generics before the rest of the country knew what they were.  They weren’t even store brand.  They were canned foods with white labels with black block lettering that said “Peaches” or “Green Beans”.  Nothing fancy but sound and good and American grown by some farmer in the midwest.

In the summer, we went to Summer Fun at the base at Pearl Harbor where the first thing we did each day was swim 40 laps in the officer’s pool followed by survival training where we learned to stay afloat for hours in case riptides dragged us and our boogie boards out to sea.  We took field trips and polished kukui nuts and made flowers out of wire petals dipped in a liquid plastic material that is probably now off limits to children.  At night, we ran around military housing until the wee hours and dodged the patrol cars trying to enforce curfew.

So, my experience of growing up military brat was mostly positive.  Changing schools so often wasn’t fun but it was easier when other kids were in the same boat.

I suspect it’s not like that anymore.  In fact, on Google maps, I can’t find the old military housing where I lived in Pearl Harbor.  My old elementary school is there but the rowhouses with the enclosed lanais have been replaced by pods of condos.  But there was a price to pay for being a brat during the Vietnam War.  From the age of 2 until I was 10, I saw my dad for only a couple of months a year.  And we were the lucky ones.

[Katiebird (KB) here. My comments will be in italic: ] My childhood experience was a little different too.  My parents met while working at a Navel Atomic Energy Research Lab and my dad worked there until he transferred to Water Pollution Control (later the EPA) in 1967. So I had some exposure to the fringes of military life although we were very much civilians. And the mission of the lab my dad worked in was to find a defense against nuclear weapons so that was a little weird too.]

Rachel Maddow’s book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, is about the modern military and how we got here.  If you are a fan of Rachel’s style on Air American and MSNBC, you’ll find this book an entertaining read.  I read the first two chapters and then listened to the rest of it on Audible.  And while we are going to give away a signed copy of the book, I recommend the audible version.  Maddow’s snarky, ironic style comes across better in her oral interpretation of the book in the audio format.

This book is well researched and very well written.  Each chapter moves smoothly into the next.  She hits what she considers to be the most important series of events that lead from the limited use of our military for serious wars to the establishment of a full time military with unprecedented lethality but burdened with unaccountable private contractors and the loss of generational technological memory.

[KB] I was stunned by the amount of research that went into this book.  And her skill in condensing and combining facts in an interesting and readable fashion.

Early on, she introduces us to the Abram’s doctrine, which arose out of Vietnam.  During the Vietnam war, President Johnson made the decision to not involve the Reserves or National Guard.  This was unprecedented in American military history where previous conflicts involved them.  Instead, Johnson used the draft to meet the increasing demands of an escalating war.  The Reserves and National Guard became a haven for the rich and well-connected and the draft the place for the less fortunate.  As the war was winding down, the Abrams doctrine was introduced to tie the hands of the president.  With respect to future conflicts, the involvement of the Reserves and National Guard would be hard to avoid so that the whole country would feel the sting of war and would therefore enter into one more cautiously.  After the implementation of the Abrams doctrine, the president would need to consult with Congress to get approval for committing troops to wars and the Reserves would need to be included.  As you can imagine, the Republicans didn’t much care for tying the hands of their executives.

[KB] I really liked being reminded about the relationship of the draft and the Vietnam war vs National Guard & the wars since. That might be my biggest takeaway from this book.

The rest of the book highlights how various presidents have attempted to get around the Abrams doctrine and how, over the intervening 40 years, they have mostly succeeded.  The sections featuring Ronald Reagan’s “Arms for Hostages” Iran-Contra affair are both hillarious and horrifying.  The impression one gets about Reagan is that he was playing a dangerous game but that trying to get around Congress was just a lark to him.  Either Reagan was the simpleton Maddow makes him out to be, which is terrifying enough, or he knew exactly what he was doing and his actions should have gotten him impeached.  After all, what the Arms for Hostages deal involved was selling missiles to Iran through Israeli middlemen in order to free Americans who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Then the money from those sales were passed on to the Contras in Nicaragua.  Congress had specifically prohibited any help whatsoever from the US government to the Contras through the Boland Amendment.  But Attorney General Ed Meese had found chinks in the amendment that would allow the assistance, even going so far as to say that Congress hadn’t prohibited the Department of Agriculture or Health and Human Services from aiding the Contras.  In other words, the Reagan Administration was going to do it no matter what impediment Congress put in Reagan’s way.

[KB] I read through the bits about Iran-Contra several times because I’ve never understood what happened there.  At the time it seemed like the entire Reagan Administration was going down…. and then it was never mentioned again.  Well, Rachel has pages of detail – quotes from Congressional Hearings, Time Magazine & a step-by-step description of what happened and when. But, the climax is just as vague to me now as it was then:

The president had been caught red-handed. Congress had exercised its legal and constitutional prerogative to restrain the executive france from waging a war in Nicaragua. Reagan responded by by breaking the law, waging the war anyway, and funding it by illegal and secret weapons deals that the president insisted weren’t happening. The secretary of defense was indicted on multiple counts, as were two national security advisers, an assistant secretary of state, the chief of Covert Ops at the CIA, and two other senior CIA officials. The president himself escaped largely by pleading exhaustive ignorance and confusion: “I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own . . . the simple truth is, I don’t remember — period.” The Reagan presidency — the whole mythology of Reagan’s leadership — was laid bare. This was competence? (pg. 122)

Is that clear? “The president escaped largely by pleading exhaustive ignorance and confusion” Really?  Is that really how that happened? Because from there we skip onto George H. W. Bush and his pardons — and we don’t really look back. From then on the precedent was set and we just don’t have to expect trivial respect for legalities from our Presidents anymore.

Maddow details the disaster in Grenada and it comes off sounding like a tragic version of Keystone Kops planned the invasion and 19 servicemen died.  She recounts Bush Senior’s conflict with Congress over the first Gulf War as well as the Dynacor contractors in Bosnia who bought sex slaves with US taxpayer dollars as the military shifted to private contracting in the 90s.  In her last chapters, she talks about what is happening to our nuclear arsenal and the almost complete absence of documentation that would help the military maintain and replace components, including the hydrogen producing substances in the missiles themselves where the recipe for making more material has gone missing and military scientists are unable to reproduce it.  North Dakota is at the mercy of a socket wrench and air force specialists don’t bother going through safety checklists.

Throughout the book, Maddow maintains attention to resources and detail.  It is obvious that a lot of research went into writing this book.  Where she found time, I’ll never know.  But I do have some issues with the way the book was written and, based on my short discussion with Katiebird, we both are finding it problematic in the same way.  Maddow lays out pretty clearly how the drift occurred but she makes no attempt to suggest why it happened.  One almost gets the feeling that if you are a follower of Maddow’s brand of politics, you don’t have to wonder why it happened.  You just know.  It is to be assumed that the military industrial complex is driving things and that the presidential players are in on it, although her treatment of Bill Clinton and Al Gore seems ambivalent at best.  According to Maddow, it was all those Nurseries, Dispensaries and Summer Fun that persuaded Clinton and Gore outsource military dependent care to private contractors.  Maybe it’s just because I was an adult during the 90s and old enough to pay attention but I suspect that the high price of daycare on military bases was a Republican concern.  Consider military brats the equivalent of the welfare queen.

But if it is true that the military industrial complex is driving the drift to permanent war standing, why doesn’t she take that theory to its logical conclusion?  I mean, she justifiably comes down pretty hard on George W. Bush for starting two wars, one of them wholly unnecessary, and then giving the country a series of irresponsible tax cuts, but she spares Obama for extending the Bush tax cuts when we simply cannot afford the wars anymore.  Obama did this unnecessarily and irresponsibly as well.  Where is the condemnation for that?

Similarly, Obama is given credit for signing the new START treaty at the beginning of his presidency but not condemned for negotiating a contract for modernizing our nuclear defense systems which will include nuclear laden drones.  The price tag is crushing and the prospects of unmanned nuclear drones terrifying but you get the idea that Obama’s hand was forced by Republicans.  He’s just being dragged into things.  None of this is his fault.  It’s everyone else’s fault for starting wars and hiring private contractors. Obama is the only president who seems to be blessed with an excuse.  I’m not buying it.  Not only am I not buying it but if we have drifted into maintaining an expensive standing army at perpetual war, then it would seem that a good way of turning American’s attention to it would be to fix the economy first to free up some mental capacity for putting an end to the trend. But there is no suggestion that that might be necessary or that Obama has the wherewithal to do it.  And if that’s the case, can we please get a replacement who knows what the heck he/she is doing?

Another oddity is that Maddow almost entirely skips the controversy of the Iraq War Resolution.  I’m not sure why she chooses to do this since it was the basis for the left favoring one candidate over the other in 2008.  You’d think the IWR would merit some kind of coverage but I guess we’re all supposed to be so familiar with it that there’s no need to rehash all of the ugly details.  And she doesn’t say too much about the shocking use of misleading information and propaganda that was used by both Bushes for their excursions to the Persian Gulf.  I can’t account for this since the rest of the book is heading for it and then it just disappears, *poof!*, from the historical record.

[KB] I was kind of confused as well.

I think the problem with “Drift” might be the collision of Maddow the Researcher vs Maddow the Democrat.  My biggest complaint about the book is that I do not believe that any of the events had anything at all to do with “Drift” — Nothing so consistent as our move toward scaling back domestic spending and building up military spending happens without a deliberate decision among Very Serious People. And that decision had to include Republicans and Democrats.  It had to. If the Democrats were against it — truly against it — they would have made sure there were headlines in all the appropriate places. And the same thing goes for the Iraq War Resolution (perhaps in this case she didn’t want to expose just how limited that resolution was).

And while I appreciate the high level of research and quality of the writing, I’m still dissatisfied that Maddow didn’t take more time to find out what was driving Reagan, Bush Sr. and Dick Cheney.  Maybe in the end, it doesn’t matter why they did it as long as we voters insist that it stops because it is bankrupting us.  But if we never identify the actors who made it happen, and I think the public actors are not at all the whole story, we can never get to the source of the problem: the aspects of American culture that encourage a cavalier attitude for profit and glory at the expense of rules and the common good.  On this problem, one can almost hear Maddow saying, “Beats me! I have no f*$(ing clue.”

[KB] I think this book comes right up to being a fantastic history of how the relationship between the President & Congress evolved through the last 45 years or so. I am, however, disappointed by her lack of courage — or whatever it was that held her back from sharing the full story. I don’t believe she has “no f*$(ing clue.”  She’s too smart for us to let her get away with that.  This is a great book for what it is. It could have been off the scale with a little more work.   

Still, pretty good read.  Very entertaining.  Get the audible version and clean your house.  On a scale of 1-5, this one rates 4 sponges.

*****************

We are giving a signed copy of Rachel’s book away.  If you are interested in reading it, please indicate in the comment thread below.  I’ll use a random number generator to select a lucky recipient and will contact you through your email address.  If you have previously indicated that you wanted to read it, I will add your name and address to the entries.

Or…

Paul Krugman had a recent post about the McKinsey study that purports to show that up to 30% of employers are planning to drop health insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration and other Democrats seem to be in full denial mode, demanding that McKinsey show its data because it can’t *possibly* be true. Right? RIGHT?!

In some respects, this reaction is reminiscent of the Republicans who were adamant that Democrats take it back about Republicans trying to destroy Medicare in franked mailings and ads.

I’m of the “let’s wait and see the data” variety before I jump on the Democratic bandwagon. Paul’s a pretty smart guy but he may be jumping the gun here. Just because McKinsey isn’t revealing their data doesn’t mean their conclusions aren’t true. You don’t have to be a Republican to consider the possibility that the conclusions are valid.

Here’s just one possible scenario that may explain why McKinsey is holding out. The firms they are consulting for may be planning to layoff a lot of people and hire them back as contractors. If they do that, the employee is responsible for paying health insurance, not the company who is going through a middle man to add staff. Now, your consultants would know about this plan. Presumably, they were the knuckleheads that advised it in the first place. But you don’t want the employees to know what’s coming. I mean, have you *been* in a building that’s going through layoffs?? The people who aren’t wandering around like zombies are busily updating their CVs and contacting their network. No one gets any work done. (well, *I* did but I see now that I was crazy for all the good it did me) It’s a fricking disaster area. And let’s not even talk about the cut throat behavior of people back stabbing each other to make sure they secure the positions that are left. It’s an ugly bloodbath and no one comes out looking good.

So, maybe the reason that McKinsey isn’t talking is because it has to respect the confidentiality of its clients. In this business environment, the bottom line is the bottom line. Companies will do what they have to in order to appease the shareholders and right now, a lot of companies are desperate for cash and can’t cut much more without affecting productivity any more than they have. They still need the people. They just don’t want to have to compensate them so well. If that means laying off and hiring contractors without the burden of health insurance, well, the new Affordable Care Act gives them a great opportunity to do it. They just need to keep everyone working until then.

Of course, this is just a hypothesis. But it could explain the silence on McKinsey’s part. You don’t want to be the bearer of bad news that there is going to be a lot more unemployment soon and a lot more people without health insurance.

I’ll wait to be proven wrong.

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